A dearly loved cat desperately tried to free itself from a possum trap set on a residential Masterton fence.

Eli, a 4-year-old female tabby, was found dead, hanging from the fence with a dislocated left front leg last March.

Significant scratch marks were evident on the fence showing Eli's attempts to escape. An SPCA inspector described the case as "harrowing".


Yesterday Ross Allen Dorrian, 55, was ordered to pay $2350 in fines, reparations and court fees after pleading guilty at Masterton District Court to two charges of ill-treating an animal and using a restricted trap unlawfully.

Dorrian set a leg-hold trap on March 20, 2016, to catch possums, nailing it to the top of a post on the rear boundary fence of his property in Colombo Rd, Masterton.

The Animal Welfare (Leg Hold Traps) Order 2007 prohibits the use of leg-hold traps within 150m of a dwelling without the permission of the occupier or in any area where there is a probable risk of catching an animal.

Dorrian's trap was within 150m of about 140 houses and he didn't seek permission from his neighbours, said Steve Glassey, Wellington SPCA chief executive.

Dorrian checked the trap on the evening of March 22 and found it empty.

The next day, about 8.30pm, Eli was discovered dead.

"Because the trap was suspended from a fence post, Eli was left hanging by her left front leg, unable to pull herself up," Glassey said.

"Numerous scratches and scuff marks on the fence confirm her desperate efforts to escape.

"This trap was set incorrectly. It is not acceptable for a trap to be set in such a way that would leave any trapped animal hanging, regardless of whether it is the target animal or not. Doing so could result in cruelty offences being committed, as in this case."

Dorrian failed to check the trap on March 23 and was unaware that Eli had been caught.

"Any live capture trap must be checked within 12 hours of sunrise on each day the trap remains set to determine if an animal has been caught," Glassey said.

"Again, the defendant failed to do this."

A veterinary examination of the cat's body revealed that the elbow of its left foreleg was dislocated.

The trap may have restrictred blood supply to the limb and compressed nerves. After about 30 minutes, the pain would have got progressively worse.

The cause of death could not be established, but the presence of scratches and scuff marks on the fence, coupled with the fact that the cat died in the trap, suggest that shock, dehydration, hypothermia and exhaustion were contributing factors, Glassey said.

A vet concluded Eli would have suffered severe pain and distress from having its foot caught in the trap, and hanging from the trap would have stretched and strained the muscles of the left forelimb and trunk.

Eli would have also experienced distress from being restrained and being unable to express the normal "fight or flight" behaviours when exposed to pain.

When interviewed, Dorrian said he knew cats were around but that they didn't tend to go into his property as he had built fences over the years.

However, he agreed that there was a probable risk of catching a cat. He expressed significant remorse and has been co-operative throughout the investigation, Glassey said.

"The SPCA wants to send a clear message on this issue: Don't set leg-hold traps in urban areas. The risks to pets and children are real and the consequences are potentially severe."

- Additional reporting: Wairarapa-Times Age